Queerness in shojo manga: politics & representation

Queerness in shojo manga: politics & representation

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the presence of queer characters in shojo manga. From crossdressers to characters who are not so emotionally stable, it’s interesting to see the ways in which not only these characters are depicted but queerness itself. Although I could easily look to shonen-ai or yuri to examine gender roles and homosexuality, I would instead like to discuss queer characters in shojo series because they serve to queer heterosexual storylines. It’s also interesting to note that while a staple of shojo manga is the female crossdresser (dating all the way back to Princess Knight), very rarely are female ‘queer’ characters also homosexual, and thus for this reason I will be focusing primarily on male characters. In particular, I’m interested in looking at the politics and representation of two characters from two different popular shojo series: Nakao Senri from Hana-Kimi and Masao Kirishima from Mars.

One of several times Mizuki and Nakao dress as girls in Hana-Kimi (and Nakao is fine with it).

Near the beginning of Hana-Kimi, Nakao makes it clear that he is in love with another student at his all-male school: Minami Nanba, who is a resident advisor and ladies’ man. Along with being very protective of Nanba, Nakao also prides himself as being one of the prettiest males in the Osaka dorms. In discussing Nakao, the_patches wrote an interesting post about how important it is to consider how characters perceive their own gender and sexuality. This made me think of the ways in which Nakao reflects on his own gender: later on in the manga, Nakao says that he wishes he had been born female because he fell in love with a straight man. He also dresses up as a female several times throughout the series without complaint (although that’s par the course for Hana-Kimi), but he doesn’t do it regularly. However, at no other point does Nakao express any desire to be a woman nor does he show disgust at or deny being a male. Where things get complicated is in trying to figure out how he perceives his sexuality. While Nakao is open about being in love with Nanba, he never calls himself gay nor do any of the characters around him. I think a huge reason why it’s hard to pin down Nakao’s sexuality is because the author of Hana-Kimi, Hisaya Nakajo, categorically denies Nakao being gay because she mentions at one point that the only gay character in the series is Umeda. In some ways, this can be seen as a progressive representation of queerness, because by leaving the question of whether Nakao is gay or not open keeps him from being labeled. This is especially important because western society typically views any person who engages in homosexual activities or who has homosexual feelings as ‘gay,’ even though a person who has done these things may not perceive themselves to be gay. If anything, because Nakao is in love with Nanba but has never expressed interest in any other men, the most that can be said about his sexuality is that he’s ‘Nanba-sexual.’ However, I unfortuantely do not believe that Hisaya Nakajo left Nakao’s sexuality ambiguous in order to be progressive but rather to avoid controversy. There is a misconception that the Japanese are more accepting of homosexuality because of the popularity of yaoi and the presence of homosexual characters throughout anime and manga, but in reality homosexuality is seen as something that not only should be kept private but also rarely happens in Japan. To a slight degree, we can see that Nakajo had to contend with the problem of homophobia during the publication of the series when she mentions in volume two that many of her readers expressed that they would like Umeda’s character if only he weren’t gay. Ultimately, this suggests to me that she possibly held back from making Nakao ‘officially’ gay because the readers simply wouldn’t have liked it.

Except for the fact that both characters are exceedingly feminine, Senri Nakao and Masao Kirishima don’t have much in common. Although Masao often gets mistaken for a female he doesn’t like it, and when he admits his love for Rei, Mars’ main male protagonist, he gets coldly rejected. Other than Rei, we do not know if Masao has been attracted to any other males nor do we get a good idea of how Masao percieves his own sexuality. At first, Masao seems weak and shy, but over the course of the series Masao is shown to be the cruelest character in the series. Masao claims the reason he ‘loves’ Rei is because Rei attacked a group of guys who were beating Masao up, and he fell in love with Rei’s brutality at that moment. Masao’s obsession with violence becomes clear when we find out that he killed his bully without feeling any remorse, and later he tries to kill Kira, Rei’s girlfriend. At the very end of the series, after Masao stabs Rei (who lives), he claims he doesn’t remember it happening at all and is taken to a mental insitution. The combination of Masao’s queerness and his psychological problems is extremely problematic when we consider the fact that homosexuality was considered a mental illness in the western world up until the 1940s. And although homosexuality is no longer considered a mental disorder, the stigma of this relationship still persists in the media due to the stereotype of the depraved homosexual.

Overall, it’s interesting to see the limited roles in which queerness exists for males in shojo manga. Both of these characters, along with many other queer male characters that come to mind are effeminate, which is not true for many queer men in real life. And most of the queer and gay characters that I can think of have unfulfilled love lives: very rarely do we see queer characters in shojo manga in successful relationships, and if they are those relationships never take the spotlight. There are many areas to explore in the politics and representation of queer characters, and thus I’d like to return to the topic some time in the future.

How to get your guy, shojo-style

How to get your guy, shojo-style

Many shojo anime and manga feature heartrending love stories, some of which are painfully realistic and others that put any Fabio-clad romance novel to shame. I have compiled a list of great romantic advice from some of the most popular shojo series, which will help you capture the heart of the man of your dreams. With a lot of determination and a little luck, these tips should help you get any man you desire!

  • Blackmail him: Shojo heroines often have to contend with guys who are way too cold and smart for their own good, so if the girl wants to bring him down and make him realize she’s his perfect match, she’s gonna have to fight dirty. Just look at Sana’s experience in Kodocha – when bad boy Akito started causing trouble in their sixth grade classroom, Sana decided to take his ‘monkey reign’ down by threatening him with a picture of him with his pants down. It didn’t take very long for Akito to fall for her (though that whole putting his family back together thing may have helped). Kotoko in Itazura na Kiss also used this tactic in volume two, when her heartless crush Naoki made fun of her stupidity at their class’ graduation party, and she got revenge by showing off baby pictures of him dressed up as a girl. Oh sure, Naoki yelled at her for doing it, but his next reaction was to kiss her, so not only will blackmail get you your desired results – you’ll get them fast!  And for any guys looking to shojo manga for advice to help improve your love life, blackmail works just as well when guys use it on their girls, such as in His and Her Circumstances when Arima got Yukino to do all of his schoolwork when he found out that her ‘perfect student’ image was an act, while in the first volume of Hot Gimmick, Ryoki manipulates Hatsumi into becoming his slave when he sees her buying a pregnancy test for her younger sister.
  • Stalk him:Don’t believe people when they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ – in a battle as complex as love, you have to be at the front line at all times. At the beginning of Peach Girl, Momo mentions that she chose which high school to attend because of her crush – talent and career goals be damned. But the most extreme example has to be Mizuki from Hana-Kimi: she moved all the way to Japan, pretended to be a boy and enrolled in an all-boys school just to be near Sano, the high-jumper she’d admired for so long. Sano falls for her cheerful stubborness, but I have a feeling the fact that Mizuki was around him 24/7 didn’t hurt, either. It’s even better if you manage to move in with him like Miki does in Marmalade Boy (although that was her parents fault). It won’t take him too long to decide he loves you, even if he does see you without your make-up on – because having a live-in girlfriend saves time. 
  • Sponge off of him: If you do manage to get into the same school as the object of your affections, chances are the tuition will be so high Donald Trump would weep. Take advantage of the perks of not being in the Top 1 percent by having your guy spoil you! Your guy will be so fascinated by your strange ways (like making bento lunches and taking out the garbage) that every chance he gets he’ll shower you with lavish gifts and vacations, like Tamaki does for Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club. Of course, you can’t expect or ask him to be your sugar-daddy – when he gives you that necklace that’s worth more than the entire McDonalds franchise, promptly scold him for spending so much money on you. Because then he’ll know you’re not with him for the money, which will make him love you more and he’ll buy you even more stuff. But if you’re as brazen as Ran from Super Gals!, you won’t need to hide your intentions to mooch off your man: Ran has every guy in Shibuya lining up to buy her everything from takoyaki to limited edition watches so they can be her guy, but it’ll take more than that to win her heart. Take notes ladies, take notes.
  • Beat the crap out of him: Guys in shojo manga tend to have girls fawning over them all of the time, so the best way to stand out is to make it clear that you aren’t interested in him at all with a nice slap and he’ll be head-over-heels in no time. The best example of this occurs in Boys Over Flowers, when Tsukushi stands up to rich bully Tsukasa by giving him a hard kick to the face, and it doesn’t take long for him to fall for her. Similarly, in the first volume of B.O.D.Y, when Ryoko finds out Ryunosuke works at a host club and he comes onto her, she gives him a swift punch to the face. This intrigues him so much he decides that he wants to win her heart. Once your guy sees how spunky you are he’ll do anything to make you his – whether you want him or not!
  • Cheating works.

    Cheat on him: What better way to get your man’s attention than to show him he’s got competition? Shojo gals tend to have a spare guy or two interested in them, so they may as well put them to good use! Kotoko does this twice in Itazura na Kiss – she goes on several dates with nice-guy Taketo in places where Naoki can see her in order to make him jealous, and later on in the series when Kotoko believes she’s lost Naoki for good, she decides to accept her hopeless suitor Kin-chan’s marriage proposal, prompting Naoki to confess his feelings for her. Another example occurs in High School Debut volume five – when Haruna tries to hook up her friends Mami and Asaoka, her boyfriend Yoh gets annoyed when Haruna constantly compliments Asaoka, and the two end up in a fight. In order to get Yoh to apologize, Asaoka decides to take Haruna out on a date in the hopes that Yoh will follow them and admit his jealousy (Haruna gets kind of swept up into his plan). After going to dinner and a movie, Asaoka decides to up the ante by telling Haruna she should cheat on Yoh with him and tries to kiss her. This finally lures Yoh out and the two make up, and Haruna begins to realize how much Yoh cares about her. This tactic works so well that not only do you and your guy not need to be an official couple – you don’t even have to cheat on purpose! For example, when Fuji forces a kiss on Ann in Sand Chronicles, her boyfriend Daigo blames himself and the two grow closer. So anytime you find yourself doubting your guy’s love, a little tryst on the side should work wonders.

So there you have it! With these tips in hand, you’ll be able to get the man of your dreams in no time! And if you’re lucky, he’ll be a seemingly mean pretty boy who is sweet only around you and happens to heir to a multibillion dollar company – just like every shojo leading man out there!

*Results not guaranteed. Actually, some of these could land you in jail. Please proceed with caution if you choose to attempt any of these. You have been warned.

Hana-Kimi volumes 1-23

Hana-Kimi volumes 1-23

Nakatsu, Sano, and Mizuki

So today I’ll be reviewing Hisaya Nakajo’s 23-volume shojo series Hana-Kimi. Hana-Kimi is about Mizuki Ashiya, a Japanese-American teenage girl who admires high-jumper Izumi Sano so much she decides to move to Japan and enroll in Osaka High, a private all-boys school just to be near him! Mizuki must hide her gender from everyone at school, but with Sano as her roommate and another boy named Nakatsu in love with her that ain’t gonna be easy! One thing I appreciate about Hana-Kimi is that instead of dragging out the reveal of Mizuki’s secret, right from the beginning Sano figures it out. However, since she is unaware that Sano knows she’s a girl many hijinks ensue. Umeda, the school’s resident doctor also figures out that Mizuki is a girl (he claims he was able to tell because he’s gay), and immediately becomes Mizuki’s confidante. In addition to watching Mizuki and Sano’s romance unfold, we also get to meet the many quirky guys at the Osaka dorms along the way.

The boys of Osaka High

Hana-Kimi is an extremely popular shojo series, but I have to say it’s not one of my favorites. I think it’s a fun read, but it ran a lot longer than it needed to (and that’s saying a lot since I have no problem with longer running series). I think the main reason I felt the series lasted longer than it needed to is because the characters didn’t change much over the course of the series. I found Mizuki and Sano to be textbook shojo protagonists – she’s cheerful but dense while he’s handsome but mysterious – so I didn’t get very attached to either character. If anything, I actually found the side characters in Hana-Kimi to be more interesting. The first character who stood out to me was Nakatsu, Sano’s best friend who falls for Mizuki. His early struggles over his feelings for Mizuki (and more importantly his sexuality) are hilarious, and I love that he decides that he doesn’t care if loving Mizuki makes him gay. However, because Nakatsu’s character development happens so early on in the series, I didn’t pay much attention to him by the time the series ended. Umeda is also a great character because he’s funny and apparently a very cruel lover to his many flings over the course of the series. Nakao is sympathetic because he is in love with Nanba, the school’s resident womanizer and student council member (not to mention Nakao initially holds a grudge against Mizuki for stealing his title as the prettiest boy at Osaka High, an award most guys would probably try to stay away from). And over the course of the series I really came to like Kayashima, Nakatsu’s frank roommate who loves to read everyone’s aura. Not to mention, Yujiro is adorable <3. But even though I enjoyed seeing the Osaka High boys hang out and grow as friends, it’s hard for me to get attached to a series when I don’t particularly love either of its main characters. Read more

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

So…Japanese girls like it rough, huh?

In keeping up with the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d take a look at the most popular romantic scenarios in anime and manga. Last year, Goo asked its female users the following question: “Of the typical scenes in a romance manga, which would you want to experience in real life?” Here were the top 10 choices:

  1. Being hugged from behind and told “I love you”
  2. Being asked out in a slightly forceful manner, e.g. “You’re going out with me today”
  3. Being patted on the head and told to “Do your best!”
  4. Discovering that their male confidante was in love with them
  5. Turning to look behind them and being kissed by surprise
  6. Having someone worry about them and look into their eyes while asking “what’s wrong?”
  7. Being fought over by more than one man
  8. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed suddenly
  9. Seeing him off at the train station and being dragged on to the train at the last second
  10. Having him wipe their tears away while saying “Don’t cry”

    Romantic, huh?

Number three seems more like how you’d treat a pet than a girlfriend, so I don’t see the romance in it at all. I’ve definitely seen it, though – I believe Sano does this to Mizuki in Hana-Kimi. Being asked out on a date in a forceful way I’ve seen done by Tsukasa in Boys Over Flowers, which lead to a disastrous (yet intriguing) date. I’m definitely not a fan of number nine – someone dragging you on a train at the last moment seems pretty selfish to me, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen this one in any anime or manga. Some of these scenarios are very fun to read whenever they occur in manga, especially numbers five and eight. These two just scream Yuu Watase: probably my favorite forced kiss is with Takiko and Uruki in volume of Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden. Another great example is between Naoki and Kotoko in volume two of Itazura na Kiss, which is the first sign that Naoki has feelings for her. And, for some reason, many of the forced kisses I can think of in anime are initiated by the rival (losing) love interest like Soshi in Absolute Boyfriend and Fuji in Sand Chronicles. And being fought over by more than one guy is in pretty much every shojo manga and it’s mother (although once again Yuu Watase is the queen of this cliché. No wonder she’s so popular). But in real life, I’m pretty sure having more than one person interested in you, while a confidence-booster, wouldn’t exactly be fun.

Takiko and Uruki

Naoki’s ‘take-that’ kiss with Kotoko:

Naoki and Kotoko

 And yet another forced kiss:

Soshi and Riiko

What’s interesting about this list is how forceful a lot of these scenarios are. In my opinion, a lot of these scenarios aren’t so desirable or sweet once you place them into a real life context. Being grabbed by the chin and kissed or being asked out in a demanding way are only romantic depending upon who does it: if a guy you don’t know or don’t like did this you probably would be pretty scared or pissed. But what it really comes down to I guess is different cultural values: many Japanese males are shy, especially when it comes to romance, so this helps explain why Japanese women want more assertive men because there aren’t as many men who are openly romantic, and thus this is reflected in manga. So this begs the question: which came first? Did the fantasies of real life Japanese women influence the pervasiveness of romantically assertive men in manga, or was it that these male characters in manga shaped women’s real-life desires? Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. And some of these fantasies definitely appeal beyond Japanese audiences: I have to say, I’d love to have number one done to me. I guess I like it rough, too. 😛

Yuu hugging Miki from behind
Why haven’t these been animated?!

Why haven’t these been animated?!

Looking over my shojo manga collection, I realized how many series I own have not been animated. While some are short or never became very popular, for long-running series that were huge hits, it’s really surprising. There have been several shojo with very questionable anime adaptations (Basara’s anime is very short, while Sensual Phrase’s entire plot gets changed), but I’ll be focusing on series that have been completely shafted by the anime world. So here are the 3 shojo manga I’m most surprised have never been turned into anime.

Soshi, Riiko and Night from Absolute Boyfriend

Absolute Boyfriend. This is a pretty popular series, it’s been adapted as a Japanese live-action series and it was recently announced that it will be made into a Korean drama. Yuu Watase’s a popular author, and two of her other series (Fushigi Yugi and Ceres: Celestial Legend) have been animated, so it’s surprising that Absolute Boyfriend hasn’t yet.
Mars. The manga series lasted 15-volumes, and is considered a classic. It was also made into an extremely popular Tawainese drama starring Barbie Xu and Vic Zhou from Meteor Garden fame. Mars also came out during a time when adapting shojo dramas like Hana Yori Dango was ‘trendy.’ And considering the fact that Peach Girl was animated years after its manga ended, it’s surprising that Mars has been left cold.
Hana-Kimi. This one is the most surprising to me. The manga lasted 23 volumes, has a Tawainese and a Japanese live-action drama, and will soon be turned into a Korean drama. It has the crossdressing appeal of Ouran High School Host Club and has enough comedic antics that I can see it appealing to a broader audience. And yet somehow, amidst all these drama adaptations, an anime series was left behind.

What is noticable, however, is how many shojo series have recently been turned into dramas. While several shojo anime have not been as successful as their original manga (Super Gals! comes to mind), many shojo manga that become live-action series go on to surpass the original manga’s popularity. This may be due to simple demographics – while the majority of anime companies try to appeal to be kids, and particularly to boys, many shojo anime are given low budgets and aren’t allowed to run indefinitely the way shonen series like Naruto and One Piece can. But because the audience for live-action dramas is often composed of young women, this gives shojo manga adaptations a crossover appeal because they attract the same audience. Perhaps this is why so many shojo series aren’t being animated – they’re being turned into live-action dramas instead.

Mistakes about America in Hana-Kimi

Mistakes about America in Hana-Kimi

Hi everyone! I thought I’d start with a fun post. Recently, I’ve been reading popular shojo manga Hana-Kimi. While a fun read, I find Hana-Kimi to be a very average shojo series, from it’s typical dense leading heroine to it’s use of ridiculous plots. But one thing that jumped out at me right away is how much Hisaya Nakajo got wrong about American life. You’d think she would have done research, since the main character is supposed to be from America and is pretty unfamiliar with Japanese culture. I’m only up to volume 17 of the manga, so I’m probably missing some stuff, but again, I’m just doing this for fun.

1) In America, tests are open book (Vol. 3). I friggin’ wish. If open book means ‘read notes off the palm of my hand that I wrote the night before,’ then yes, they are open book.

2) We don’t have school trips (Vol. 6). Mizuki seems sooo surprised when the school went on a trip. ‘Cause we don’t have those.

3) Even people who don’t speak Japanese will be able to magically tell what your name is in a conversation (Vol. 13). Yup, cause when someone speaks in a language I don’t understand I can tell they are introducing themselves to me.

4) Dance Party!!! (Vol. 11). The Christmas party at Mizuki’s school is a formal event, and she compares it to a ‘graduation party.’ Uh, a formal party done by school is called a prom. But it’s close enough that I’ll let it slide.

5) In volume two, Mizuki doesn’t seem to understand what goes on during Valentine’s Day. Which makes no sense, considering it’s a Western holiday.

6) The American understanding of the word kiss is automatically a kiss on the cheek. I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter what country or culture you’re in, if the person you have a crush on talks about kissing you, your first thought is probably not going to be so platonic.

7) Misc. There are also some general stereotypes about Americans, like that we speak our minds and that the women all have big breasts. These aren’t necessarily incorrect – they just make me laugh.

But, I guess I shouldn’t expect an accurate depiction of America from a manga. Especially not from a manga artist who seems to think that most straight males love to dress in drag and wash each other’s backs. 😛

Mizuki's as American as apple -er, raspberry - pie.